Tooth Decay

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What Is Tooth Decay?

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Tooth decay is the destruction of your tooth enamel, the hard, outer layer of your teeth. It can be a problem for children, teens and adults. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth and over time the enamel can break down. This is when cavities can form.

Stages of Tooth Decay

Decay around the edges, or a margin, of fillings is also common for older adults. Because many older adults lacked benefits of fluoride and modern preventive dental care when they were growing up, they often have a number of dental fillings. Over the years, these fillings may weaken and tend to fracture and leak around the edges. Bacteria accumulate in these tiny crevices causing acid to build up which leads to decay.

 

Cavities are more common among children, but changes that occur with aging make cavities an adult problem, too. Recession of the gums away from the teeth, combined with an increased incidence of gum disease, can expose tooth roots to plaque. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, a softer tissue than enamel. They are susceptible to decay and are more sensitive to touch and hot and cold. It’s common for people over age 50 to have tooth-root decay.

Stages of tooth decay

What Happens if a Decayed Tooth is not Removed?

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Although not an immediate consequence, dentists strongly advise that letting rotten teeth go unattended can lead to blood poisoning. This happens because the rot from the tooth (or teeth) keeps getting deposited into the mouth, and in most cases, it's swallowed along with saliva.

The following are symptoms of a decaying teeth

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